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Old 11-24-2006, 10:48 AM   #1
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Attempting a good chili

Ok, so I just spent two hours reading every single post in the Chili section here. Lots of great experimentation and tips!

I've made plenty of chili in the past, but nothing has really stood out as amazing. I really want to attack the subject and come up with something great. I grew up with the ground beef, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and beans in a pot. Sure it fed everyone and was good, but not anything amazing.

Looking at all the regional claims to fame. Texas red, mexican mole based sauces, game chili's from the mid-west & mountains, health-nut turkey, etc. The purity of texas-red appeals to me, as well as the flavor depth and complexity of the Oaxacan sauces like the various mole's (Like Mole Poblano). I want a bean-less chili, and am leaning towards 3/4" cubes of beef chuck for the meat. I want plenty of sauce, more than a braise, but less than a soup/stew. I'd like the sauce to be fairly smooth, and very deep in flavor with plenty of viscosity to nape. So my immediate thoughts are a large reduction of beer, beef stock, and crushed tomatoes as a cooking liquid. Thickening with torn pieces of corn tortilla/crushed tortilla chips also catches my interest, but I'm worried it might make the sauce gritty (Does it fully dissolve?). How about using Masa Harina, that inferior masa product - or wold I be better sticking to torn corn tortillas/chips?

As mentioned above, I'm interested in the flavor associated with mexican mole's. Unsweetened Oaxacan chocolate, toasted nuts, coffee, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, anise etc. I've read the old tales about the Mexican nun preparing the first mole with spices from the orient, powdered chocolate blowing in through the window, etc. Would pepitas (punkin' seeds) be traditional? What other nuts are native to Mexico and the Southwest? I see a lot of recipes with ground peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds. The chocolate and toasted nut butters interest me most.

Then of course the "Chili Powder" (with an i) and dried chile's (with an e). I have Alton Brown's DVD on chili, and definetly like the looks of his method/chili powder recipe. I definetly love the smokiness of dried Jalapenos (chipotles) and the flavor of them (as well as the heat). To be honest, I haven't experimented much with other dried chile's (with an e). I have some stale-tasting powdered ancho, but thats about it. I don't want this to be the worlds hottest chili, but I also don't mind a good hit of heat either. I'm not a raw Habanero kind of guy, but I love fiery Thai dishes made with bird chile's and Hot Tamales are my favorite candy (cinnamon fire haha). I was thinking of starting with anchos, cascabels, arbols, and chipotles.

I'll be making a run to the store later today for dried chiles, mexican bittersweet chocolate, nuts, chuck, and some beer.

Speaking of beer, some people swear by dark beer, while others say it overpowers everything and to use an amber ale (or even a lager in some recipes).

I realize there are a zillion recipes for chili, but I'm just looking for some help, answers to questions above, and opinions/recipes that might work with my goals.

I was thinking rice n' beans would be a great pairing with the stew, or maybe just some tortillas.

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Old 11-24-2006, 11:29 AM   #2
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Nick, first of all go to Penzeys and get their CHILI powder. It is lovely and smoky and has exactly the flavour you need. My family (who are heat wimps) LOVED that chili powder and raved it was my best chili ever.

My only other advice is, if you are going to make this an experiment, I'd do a taste off with fresh vs dried ingredients. Good luck to you.
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Old 11-24-2006, 11:35 AM   #3
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Nick:

Check out this site: International Chili Society. This is a list of past chamions. If you click on the winner's name, you will, in most cases, get the winning recipe. That should give you some ideas to enhance your efforts.

I have found the Cascabel skins to be the toughest of all. You may want to rehydrate them and scrape the meat off the skin to keep it out of the chili.
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Old 11-24-2006, 11:36 AM   #4
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Hi, I don't claim to be a chili expert but I love to experiment and here are some things that work well in my chili:

All freshly roasted and ground spices (nothing less gives it the zing that I like). I normally dry roast a good amount of cumin seeds, corrainder seeds, dried ancho and dried arabol chili's in a fry pan. Once the oils are released. I powder them in a coffee grinder. This forms the aromatic spice mix that adds depth to the chili. I also like to add a pinch of freshly ground cinnamon and black pepper to add a subtle yet delectable flavor to the chili

I also like to use fresh garlic and jalapenos (both finely chopped) in my chili for added depth

Finally diced tomatoes a hint of brown sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder gives the chili a rich decadent taste

I like to use mostly beef (ground) in my chili and also some black beans (I make mine from scratch because I don't like canned beans).

To serve I like to add some chopped cilantro, diced red onions, good quality cheddar, chopped green onions, sour cream and some tortilla chips.

This along with some corn bread and everyone in my house is happy.
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Old 11-24-2006, 07:04 PM   #5
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Alix - I'm hoping to make my own chili powder with dried chiles that have been toasted to wake 'em up.
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Andy - Awesome link! Just spent the past hour reading every recipe listed back to the late 1960's. Definetly gave me a few ideas. A few from the 70's mention the use of kidney fat as a cooking medium. I've read a lot about kidney fat being the ultimate fat, but have never tried it. Anthony Bourdain always boasts about it too.
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Yakuta - Sounds great! What do you use for liquids, and how much per pound of meat?
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Hit the Whole Foods store and a Mexican market/restaurant today. Picked up 6lbs of whole beef chuck, 6-pk of Dos Equis Amber Ale, pack of Colombian Luker chocolate (couldn't find any oaxacan chocolate), masa harina, corn tortillas, tortilla chips, almonds, peanuts, pepitas, sesame seeds, arbols, anchos, pasillas, chipotles, chipotles en adobo, and one bottle of Mexican Pepsi which is made with sugar instead of corn syrup and bottled in glass (and definetly tastes different). For the life of me, I could not locally source any cascabels.

Also ate lunch at the Mexican market. Had mole poblano, chicken, and rice & beans.

Going to do a whole bunch of experimentation tomorrow with 1.5lb batches of chili. I have a few mole recipes in my cookbooks, but need to do a bunch of research still. I don't want a chili that tastes like mole, but a classic bowl of red that has a few of the complexities of mexican moles (including that flavor depth). Being someone that loves French dishes/techniques, I can't help but desire a sauce with smoothness. I definetly don't want any grittiness. In fact, from my reading I discovered that smoothness is also a factor that traditional mole's are judged by, and that in many communities there is a common mill/grinder that everyone uses to get a smooth mole. I suppose minced items wouldn't bother me much, but I don't want chunks of onion or chiles in mine, thats for sure. I'm thinking a deeply flavored velvet-textured sauce (with a good bite) coating tender bite-sized pieces of braised chuck. Then something to soak/grab that sauce up like rice & beans or tortillas.

Do any of you guys use nuts (in the form of pastes/butters) in your chili recipes? If so, which do you use, and how much?

Edit: By the way, the Pepsi was for drinking, not for making chili...
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Old 11-25-2006, 11:27 AM   #6
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Doing a little more research this morning. Looking at the common factors and differences between Texas Red and Mole Poblano. I plan to keep the common factors in my chili, but have to look closely at the differences...

Both use tomatoes and stock/water, but chili also uses beer quite often. anchos & pasillas seem to be common chile's used in both, with some mole's using chipotles and many chili's using them. Pecans, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds (classic in moles) are all native to Mexico/SA, but almonds and sesame seeds were imported, along with cinnamon, coriander, anise, cloves, and oregano. Chocolate is obviously native. Oddly enough, very few mole sauces include cumin, whereas almost every chili recipe on earth is loaded with it!

I get a kick out of the addition of bread to mole's along with tortillas. Seems like someone just threw everything they had into the sauce. I'm wiling to bet that the flour thickens things better than the cornmeal, but something just seems off adding hunks of french bread to a southwestern/mexican dish.

Suagrs come from the tomatoes, onions, chiles, and raisins (in moles). Some balance the flavor with sugar or a bit of honey.

Chili's are often made by adding blends of dried chile's that were toasted and powdered, whereas traditional moles fry the chile's in lard before processing them. Fat is an excellent transmitter of flavor, so I can see how this would be a great technique with chili. Some old chili recipes in fact do this as the first step. The mole making process is certainly much more refined than the cowboy "everything in a pot" method of chili making. That said, I'm looking at the following common ingredients...

Ancho Chiles
Pasilla Chiles
Chipotle Chiles in Adobo Sauce
Tomatoes
Onions
Garlic
Oregano
Black Pepper
Stock/Water
Masa/Masa-Harina Based Thickening Agents

And for the rogue ingredients...

Beer
Nuts (Almonds, Peanuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Pecans)
Chocolate
Spices (Cumin, Cloves, Cinnamon, Coriander, Anise)
Wheat Flour Based Products (Flour or Bread)

Of course there are countless others, but these are some of the common ones I came up with. The spices will be easy to test out, as I can make a common batch, separate the batch into small portions and simmer with different spices to taste their effect. In most recipes, the chocolate is added late in the show as well, which makes that an easy taste test. Beer is something I've tried before with a lager, so I'm going to test the difference between a lager based chili and amber-ale based chili too. I'm also going to try various roasted nut pastes/butters.

Another item on my list to try will be toasted/powdered chile's vs fried/processed.

Have to pick up a couple items at the store before I start.

Still looking for opinions/recipes too, so chime in!

EDIT: I love how the mole recipes make the sauce first. This allows it to be finely processed and strained. I definetly plan to use this technique in my chili making.
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Old 11-25-2006, 03:10 PM   #7
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Nick, I think you're putting too fine an edge on this. Chili is an "everything in the pot" dish. It's not meant to be like a mole, although they have some common ingredients.

Chili is a stew with meat, chiles and spices. I would consider the following seasonings as usual: Mexican oregano, garlic, onion, cumin, salt. Select a mix of dried and fresh chiles to provide the pepper flavor you like. I like a little tomato but not too much. You can use beer, water or broth for a liquid.

Masa harina appears to be a standard for thickening. It does not have a strong flavor of it's own.

I'd suggest starting off with a basic recipe that has the beef and pepper taste you like then test it with beer or broth in place of water...

Keep us posted.
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Old 11-25-2006, 05:11 PM   #8
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Yeah, I'm definetly not trying to make a traditional mole, but I love some of the flavors in mole poblano. After reading a few hundred recipes, I'm going to try the following...

Lard As Needed
1.5lbs Beef Chuck - Diced into 1/2" Cubes
2oz Finely Minced/Grated Onion
2 Large Cloves Garlic - Smashed into Paste
3-T Toasted/Ground Ancho Chiles
1-T Toasted/Ground Pasilla Chiles
1-t Toasted/Ground Cumin
1-T Mexican Oregano
2 Chipotle Chile's with Adobo Sauce
1-C Medium Bodied Beer (I'm Using Dos Equis Amber)
1-C Beef/Veal Stock (I'll be using Veal)
1-C Crushed Tomatoes - Run through a food mill
Black Pepper & Kosher Salt

I'm going to use the braising technique. Brown the beef in lard and remove it to a separate bowl. Then I'll caramelize the onions/garlic, followed by the spices/chiles in the hot lard. Then I'll deglaze with the liquids, add the oregano, and put the beef back in. Next I'll simmer for a couple minutes, then cover it and throw it in a 325F oven until it's finsihed (an hour or two).

From there I'll be able to start my experiments by dividing the chili into a few small 1qt sauciers. I'm going to play with chocolate, roasted nut/raisin pastes, spices (cinnamon, cloves, coriander), and thickening with masa/masa harina products (if needed). My recipe ratio is 2-Cups of liquid per pound of beef, so with the addition of the spices/chiles I may not have to thicken it much.

I bought enough chuck and staples to make four 1.5lb batches, so I can make it an evolutionary process as I refine each pot.
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Old 11-25-2006, 06:46 PM   #9
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Hi Nick. I live in Texas and make chili several time a year when it's cool outside. A couple of things I've learned by trial and error and watching how others do it. One is to brown the onions and meat together and then add about half the spices I think I need (and the garlic) and cook them for a minute or so with the meat before I add any liquid. Once the chili gets to the tasting stage I add the rest of the spices a little at a time until it tastes right, it probably is never the same amount of any one thing. I also add a can of beef broth or a beef bullion cube or two. I really gives the flavor a boost but you can't add the salt at the beginning if you do this, add it a little at a time until its right. As for dried chilis I like them, the anchos and chipotles but I remove the stems and seeds and throw them in the pot in big chunks and fish them out before we eat. They can really change the flavor which I like once in a while.One more thing, I know it varies with each individual but I think the grind of the meat is very important and for me it has to be very corse and takes at least two hrs to get tender. Sorry to be so long winded, I love chili and like to talk about it.
Ross
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Old 11-25-2006, 07:58 PM   #10
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RosCoe - I've read a lot about reserving 1/4-1/2 of the chiles/spices/herbs until the dish is almost finished. From my reading it's similar to holding back herb and aromatic additions from stock until the last hour which preserves the essential oils and flavors. I may try this with my initial recipe as well. I'm also figuring 1.5-2hrs as the cooking time. Perhaps I will add half the chiles at the start (cooking them in the lard as one would do with mole), and then the other half after 1hr or 1.5hrs of braising, giving them 30min or so to develop in the sauce, but not so long as to break down all those essential oils. In fact, I think I'll do that - Thanks!
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I got busy tonight so i didn't get a chance to run a batch, but I did trim and break down about 6lbs of chuck into 1/3-1/2" cubes. Spent the morning/afternoon reading and coming up with an initial recipe to try so I had to run around tonight getting other stuff done. Oh well. It will be chili for lunch/dinner tomorrow!
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